After a brief visit to Guamote, we made our way to Ecuador’s southern city of Cuenca. Similar to Quito, Cuenca is a colonial city dating from the 16th century and its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cuenca, Ecuador

It has a completely different vibe from Quito, however. Quito is big, sprawling, and full of crowds (the tiny walkways in the historic centre don’t help).

Cuenca, on the other hand – although it’s the third-largest city in Ecuador, it doesn’t feel like it. With its colonial heritage on full display everywhere you turn, it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped into another era.

I also loved the laid-back vibe of the city. It was almost surreal to be in a major city like Cuenca and not see people hurrying past you.

Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that our first proper day of exploring was Sunday. I was taken aback by how empty the streets were!

Arrival in Cuenca

Ian and I arrived around mid-afternoon on Saturday, and caught a taxi to our AirBnB with no problem. It was conveniently located right in the heart of the historic centre, in a converted colonial home.

The family runs a crafts and souvenir shop on the ground floor. I fell in love with the aesthetic of the place the minute I stepped in.

Such vibrant colours everywhere you look! And those plants? *swooon*

Sunday Funday…? (Or, what to do on a slow Sunday in Cuenca)

Cuenca, Ecuador

Hardly another soul in sight in the historic centre of Cuenca. A stark contrast to my home of Singapore, where I actively avoid the city centre on weekends because it’s so packed with people, it makes me feel like a pig in a(n overcrowded) pigpen.

So to me, these empty streets were indeed the epitome of #SundayFunday.

One downside though. Everything was closed. 

Well, almost everything (as you’ll see).

But first, let’s get our bearings.

Parque Calderon

Parque Calderon, Cuenca, Ecuador

This is the largest plaza in Cuenca, which you can see a mile away thanks to the two cathedrals surrounding it.

It’s excellent as a de facto home base for tourists looking to get their bearings: the hop-on-hop-off city tours buses depart from here. And there are a TON of restaurants around.

Parque Calderon, Cuenca, Ecuador

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (the “new cathedral”)

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion, Cuenca, Ecuador

It’s known as the “new cathedral” because construction only started in 1885. Across the plaza stands the “old cathedral” (El Sagrario), which dates back to 1500s.

The old cathedral is no longer a place of worship, though. It now serves as a religious museum and recital hall. (And they charge for entry, so we didn’t go in.)

Back to the new cathedral – you can see it all the way across town because of its unmistakable sky-blue tiled domes.

Cuenca, Ecuador

In any case, you won’t be able to miss the cathedral. Even if the giant doors (below) don’t give it away, there’s a perpetual gaggle of vendors at its steps selling everything from snacks to rosaries.

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion, Cuenca, Ecuador

I’ve heard that cathedrals in South America tend to be plainer and less ornately decorated than its European counterparts. Why don’t you judge for yourself?

Naples, Italy:

Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, IlDuomo, Naples, Italy

Quito, Ecuador:

Basilica, Quito, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador:

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion, Cuenca, Ecuador

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion, Cuenca, Ecuador

I think there’s something to it, don’t you?

But there’s still something about them that makes you tread a little more softly (okay, a lot more softly) and speak more quietly when you’re inside.

In any case, by no stretch of the imagination can they be called minimalist!

One thing I never quite figured out is whether they have guided tours or not. There were signs which seemed to suggest so. But we could never find out who to look for or where to register, although we came back a few times hoping for a miracle.

In any case, the cathedral is one of the few places open on Sundays (for obvious reasons!), so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Opening hours: Mon – Sat 6.30am – 5pm, Sun until 8pm.

Flower market

One block from the cathedral there’s a pretty little flower market – it looked like the flowers were church-related too.

Flower market, Cuenca, Ecuador

Sunday stroll

Sunday in Cuenca, Ecuador

After breakfast, we walked along the empty streets of downtown Cuenca. Even though almost all the shops and restaurants were closed, it was still a glorious feeling.

(Plus, you can stop and take all the photos you want without worrying about getting in people’s way!)

Sunday in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is known as the city of four rivers, and I absolutely recommend walking along the Tomebamba river on a Sunday. There are a few people out and about, but it’s incredibly peaceful.

Rio Tomebamba, Cuenca, Ecuador

The river effectively acts as a divide between the city’s historical centre to the north, and the more modern neighbourhoods to the south.

Paseo 3 de Noviembre, Cuenca, Ecuador

Plaza de San Sebastián

Plaza de San Sebastian, Cuenca, Ecuador

Eventually, we found ourselves at this quiet little plaza on the western end of the historical centre. And – score! – we found a museum that was open!

Museo de Arte Moderno

Museo de Arte Moderno, Cuenca, Ecuador

This modern art museum is located along the south side of the Plaza de San Sebastián. Fun fact: it was once a home for the insane! Today, it houses an interesting collection of Latin American art, including paintings and sculptures.

Museo de Arte Moderno, Cuenca, Ecuador

Even if you’re not one for modern art, you might still enjoy walking around the grounds (and possibly imagining life as an inmate, haha).

Museo de Arte Moderno, Cuenca, Ecuador

Museo de Arte Moderno, Cuenca, Ecuador

Museo de Arte Moderno, Cuenca, Ecuador

And – let’s face it – when nothing else is open, it’s not like you have anything better to do! Make sure you arrive early, though – it closes at 1pm on Sundays.

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm; weekends 9am – 1pm.

Admission by donation.

Hop-on-hop-off city tour bus

I have nothing against these buses (except that, well, you need to pay).

But they are a quick and convenient way to get the feel of a city. And at just US$8 per person (including a bilingual guide), it wasn’t too bad, really.

And for my fellow opportunistic couch potatoes, it sure is more comfortable cruising like this than trudging along the pavements! 😉

Cuenca, Ecuador

The only downside is that the audio doesn’t always match up to what you’re seeing.

The guide spoke first in Spanish, then English. So by the time he got to the English part, the object of interest was at times well in the rear-view mirror. Time for some neck exercise!

The bus departs from the Plaza Calderon at regular intervals (they have a brochure with timings).


Colegio Benigno Malo, Cuenca, Ecuador

What does this building look like to you? I thought it was some kind of government building. But it’s actually a school!

Anyone else getting Harry Potter vibes?

Mirador de Turi, Cuenca, Ecuador

Although it’s technically a hop-on-hop-off bus, nobody in our bus actually bothered to get off until we arrived at the Mirador de Turi, a viewpoint south of the city centre.

For one, a heavy downpour was clearly imminent (just check out the clouds above!). For another, it was quite late in the day and there were only a few more buses scheduled. And then, of course, you have the latent couch potatoes who just want to put their feet up and enjoy the sights. *raises hand*

There’s a mandatory break of about half an hour at the viewpoint, though. And what a view, right?

Cuenca, Ecuador

Here, we got to try some canelazo. That’s a typical Ecuadorean drink made with cinnamon and sugar, usually alcoholic but you can also get non-alcoholic versions.

Places to Eat in Cuenca


Raymipapa, Cuenca, Ecuador

Confession: when it comes to food in a new city, I rely heavily on Lonely Planet.

Raymipampa is conveniently located along the Plaza Calderon, so it was a no-brainer for us.

Churrasco at Raymipapa, Cuenca, Ecuador

You can get typical Ecuadorean dishes like churrasco (above) as well as more standard fare like pasta.

Vegetarian mushroom pasta at Raymipapa, Cuenca, Ecuador

(Yes, that’s pasta.)

Raymipampa is one of those perpetually crowded restaurants, so it’s a safe choice if you’re new to Cuenca and want to find a reliably decent mid-range restaurant. Our meal (including drinks) cost US$17 for the two of us.

Address: Benigno Malo 8-59 (along one side of Plaza Calderon, next to Angelus)

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 8.30am – 10.30pm; weekends 9.30am – 10.30pm

Angelus / Tutto Freddo

Angelus, Cuenca, Ecuador

Right next to Raymipapa along Plaza Calderon – in fact, you’ll probably see this first, thanks to the giant sign.

You can get some savoury food there, but the first thing you’ll see will be the ice-cream counter and all the marvelous ice-cream concoctions on offer. Warning: it’s also perpetually crowded. Ridiculously so.

We ate here at least 3 times – once for the sundaes ($11+ for two), once for breakfast, and once to get cake (above). Tip: The cakes are from their branch just across the road!

Address: corner of Benigno Malo and Bolivar (Plaza Calderon)

Opening hours: Mon – Wed 8am – 10.30pm; Thurs – Sat 8am – 11.30pm; Sun 8am – 10pm

WindHorse Cafe

Windhorse Cafe, Cuenca, Ecuador

Windhorse Cafe is along Calle Larga, the street that runs parallel to the Tomebamba river. It serves mainly American brunch fare (pancakes!).

I’d heard that there’s a fairly large North American retiree community in Cuenca, thanks to the low cost of living, pleasant weather, and overall chilled-out vibe. We were there for Sunday brunch, and a large group came in and took up most of the tables.

So, tip: get there early! (I think they came in around 10am.)

Our meal cost about $5 each.

Address: Calle Larga 6-16

Opening hours: Fri – Tues 8am – 3pm

Cafe Nucallacta

I forgot to take photos, but it’s reputedly the best coffee in Cuenca.

Even if you’re not a coffee person (like me), they have nice pastries and breakfast/lunch sets. Their fries are worth highlighting- a bit like Cajun fries. Our meal cost under $10 for the two of us.

Address: Hermano Miguel 5-62 (between Honorato Vasquez and Juan Jaramillo).

Note: the address listed in Lonely Planet is wrong!

Opening hours: Mon & Tue 9am – 7pm, Wed – Sat 9am – 8pm, Sun 9am – 3pm.

Have you been to Cuenca? What did you like most about it?

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The beautiful colonial city of Cuenca in southern Ecuador is more laid-back than its northern cousin, Quito. It's so laid-back that it virtually shuts down on Sundays. Find out what to do on a slow Sunday in Cuenca at | MichWanderlust | #Travel #Ecuador #Cuenca

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond, California Globetrotter, Toddlers on Tour, Two Traveling Texans and TravelLatte – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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November 11, 2017 7:43 am

This place looks beautiful, and oooooh the food! The first time I travelled through Spain I always seem to arrive somewhere when siësta had first started and all would be closed. Oh, I was so frustrated after 2 weeks 😉

Sally\'s Tips 4 Trips (aka Toddlers on Tour)

What a beautiful city Michelle. I think you were lucky that all the shops were closed, you got to explore this lovely place without the hoards.

November 11, 2017 11:08 pm

Of all the places that you’ve wrote about in Ecuador, Cuenca seems to be the most attractive one. I love vibrant and colorful places like this. I am always more attracted to big cities than to remote areas. Too bad you arrived there on a Sunday, when all the stores were closed. #TheWeeklyPostcard

November 12, 2017 12:11 am

What a pretty city! I love the colors and both cathedrals look really nice. I hate how many places close on Sunday though. That has been an adjustment for me in England too! Oh and the food you had in Cuenca looks so good. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

Abby Jo
November 12, 2017 3:42 am

Great read! I am actually heading to Ecuador in less than 2 weeks, can’t wait!! 🙂

Linda Bibb
November 12, 2017 11:32 am

Glad you found Tutto Freddo. We used to live in Cuenca and its balcony was one of our favorite hangouts. Did you get a chance to explore Pumapungo? Cuenca has an archaeological park not far from Parque Calderon, where you can see the ancient Inca ruins that predate Cuenca.

November 12, 2017 12:39 pm

I have a friend who lived and studied in Cuenca and she raves about how wonderful it was all the time. It looks like a very interesting – and not crowded on a Sunday – place to visit.

California Globetrotter
November 12, 2017 2:07 pm

It’s always so amazing how cities can be so vastly different from one another. One can be all hustle and bustle, while others make you slow down and take your time. This seems like my kind of town, especially with two massive cathedrals! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

Allison Wong
November 12, 2017 2:07 pm

Doesn’t look a slow Sunday with so many sights and scenes! The food looks great too. I hope to visit Ecuador soon!

Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)
November 12, 2017 8:35 pm

Wow – Cuenca looks like such a beautiful place, with all of the color and great architecture! And then there’s the food. Mmmm… We are ashamed to say we don’t know too much about South America, so we love your posts. And we think we’d love spending a Sunday (or any day!) in Cuenca. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Ava Meena
November 14, 2017 4:37 pm

Oh it’s SO beautiful! And historic, and colorful! I wouldn’t even mind that nothing was open – I’d definitely be content just to soak those views in. 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

Gearoid McSweeney
November 16, 2017 6:51 pm

My big query here is safety. Empty streets are rarely a good sign in South America, particularly in Quito at night. How about Cuenca? Did it feel like a safe city? It certainly looks like a beautiful place with lots to see, but is it a safe place to visit?

Victoria @TheBritishBerliner
November 16, 2017 8:34 pm

‘Sounds like a great Sunday to me – the garden, museum, the hop-on-hop-off buses, and excellent food! What not to like me thinks!

Owen @ My Turn to Travel
November 16, 2017 9:59 pm

Wished you posted this 2 weeks earlier, when I arrived in Cuenca on a Sunday. Hahaha. I arrived in Quito on a Sunday too and everything was closed tambien. I’ve noticed this throughout the continent. Your photos are pretty!

Owen @ My Turn to Travel
November 17, 2017 3:29 pm
Reply to  Michelle

Yeap I did. I’m pretty sure you liked my Cajas photo on IG hahah. TBH I’m getting a little tired of cities – they’re very similar. Even the UNESCO cities like Cuenca, Quito etc. In fact I think I’m skipping Popayan – another one of the many Ciudades Blancas I’ve visited.

November 23, 2017 9:09 am

This is definitely my kind of place! The city looks so pretty, full of heritage past. I can relate to your opinion about avoiding crowds during the weekend – weekends in Singapore are exactly the same as weekends in Malaysia – public places especially shopping malls are crowded with people!

Agness of a Tuk Tuk
December 5, 2017 10:35 pm

Wow! Cuenca seems so charming and lovely, Michelle. I am adding it to my bucket list. I will definitely use your post as a guide. When’s the best time of the year to explore this place?